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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Sir Alex: Trip's timing not sign of disrespect


Staff writer

SAITAMA — Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has dismissed accusations of disrespect for Asian soccer on his club's current tour of the region.

United played out a 2-2 draw with J. League champion Urawa Reds at Saitama Stadium 2002 on Tuesday night, as part of an Asian tour that has drawn fire from Asian soccer's governing body, the AFC, and world soccer organization FIFA.

United was scheduled to take on a Malaysian select XI on July 27 in Kuala Lumpur at the invitation of the Malaysian government, after playing FC Seoul in the South Korean capital and Chinese side Shenzhen FC in Macau.

But the English Premier League champion was forced to scrap the game after coming under fierce pressure from the AFC and FIFA, who argued that United's presence in the region would overshadow Malaysia's co-hosting of the Asian Cup.

The Asian Cup is currently taking place in Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand, with Malaysia due to host a semifinal just two days before United was set to visit.

An announced crowd of 58,716 turned up to see United's match with Urawa on Tuesday night, while attendances at Malaysia's Asian Cup matches have flagged along with the fortunes of the national team, which was eliminated at the group stage following successive heavy defeats.

But Ferguson rejects the charge United should have paid more respect for Asia's premier international tournament by staying away.

"The world of football has changed," he said.

"When I was a boy we didn't have the advantage of television, so you had to wait on the stars coming to whatever part of the country you lived in.

"I think there is nothing better for fans than to see their favorite players in the flesh, and that is what we do over here."

Ferguson also pointed to the ambassadorial role the players have taken off the pitch, with United's stars taking time out of their hectic itinerary to visit a school for the blind in Tokyo ahead of the Reds match.

The Scotsman says the timing of the club's visit was unavoidable.

"It is unfortunate that the Asian Cup is on when we were free to come to the Far East," he said.

"Every two years you have the World Cup or the European Championships, so we can't come any time. We have to take the window of opportunity when it is there.

"We are not trying to steal fans from other clubs. Our fan base is large enough for other clubs to deal with it.

"It is not about us just taking, we give back as well."



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